Take 5 with James Conway

Nicky Collinson
Editor, Dispensing Optics

Dispensing Optics editor, Nicky Collinson, catches up with Millmead Optical Group CEO, James Conway, to talk about the pandemic, the changing landscape of optics, sustainability and future plans.

NC: What impact has the pandemic had on Millmead, and how has the group adapted?

James Conway

JC: So many lives have been impacted by this terrible pandemic and many of our staff and families have lost loved ones during the last 12 months – our thoughts are with them all. It has been humbling to see the dedication of our team determined to give our customers an ongoing and complete service as our company has navigated through this unprecedented shock to UK optics.

During this period, we have had a chance to look at our customer journey in some detail, resulting in us integrating our systems to improve our partners’ experience. These changes will allow Millmead to offer our customers a more integrated supply chain across all our product ranges – more on this will be announced over the next six months. Additionally we have been developing a couple of new products, being introduced later this year, that will be truly game-changing for us and the industry.

NC: What are the key challenges going forwards for the profession and industry going forwards?

JC: Patient expectations of products, pricing, speed of service and availability are going to be higher than ever before. The awareness of the environmental credentials of companies and products is only going to increase over the coming months and years. With this in mind, we have some ground-breaking developments that we will be able to share in the coming months.

Much rapid consolidation is continuing in the industry with larger companies scooping up not only retailers but wholesalers, lens manufacturers and frame suppliers. This information grab by the industry giants is a real threat to the independent practices. Millmead is determined to support independent opticians in the navigation of these relentless changes.

Technology is becoming more and more powerful throughout the patient journey and this is set to continue. The impact of this is going to be felt more and more over the coming years. This should give independent practices the opportunity to differentiate their patient experience by early adoption of cutting-edge technology.

NC: How is Millmead supporting independent practices in meeting these?

JC: Being a UK-based, truly independently-owned business, Millmead is wholeheartedly committed to supporting independent practices with the above challenges. By offering a focused product range and comprehensive service, we are uniquely positioned to offer practical support to our independent partners.

We are going to be massively expanding our offering of fully glazed packages with frames from Continental Eyewear, lenses from Jai Kudo lenses and cases/accessories from Optoplast. By combining these together, we are able to simplify our customers’ supply chain, with a single point of contact for all product enquiries, delivering speedier glazing, significant savings in carriage costs together with other rewards and benefits for loyal customers – and importantly, reducing the carbon footprint of the whole supply chain.

NC: How is the group incorporating sustainability into its products and services?

JC: This is a huge topic for us and we have been developing new sustainable ranges over the last couple of years. We have made significant investments in new technology and manufacturing techniques that will enable us to offer some truly industry-changing products and services.

As mentioned, we will be launching a couple of hugely important new products this year that directly relate to sustainability. Optoplast has already been offering a large range of cases made from recycled plastic bottles and recycled cardboard. Millmead’s sustainable ranges will be expanding significantly during the next 12 months.

NC: Has your outlook changed since the start of the pandemic, and what does the future hold for the group?

JC: The start of the pandemic was a terrible time as a business owner. I’m sure many people can relate to the feeling of chaos and fear of the unknown that we all experienced as the lockdown began. Everything looked quite bleak but as the year progressed, we saw a reassuring recovery. 2021 started quite slowly but there is definitely now some momentum in the industry and trading is starting to build as the year progresses.

With the many changes happening in our industry, being an independent company is more important and relevant to our customers than ever; it seems that every year there are less and less independent companies. Millmead recognises its responsibility to sincerely protect and support independent opticians.

We are extremely excited about our future and put independent practices at the very heart of everything we do. I honestly believe some of the projects launching later this year will be of huge benefit to our partners and, in turn, their patients.